Raven at Arnarstapi photo by Michael Ridpath author of the Magnus Iceland Mysteries

I sometimes think that the ravens own Iceland and humans are allowed to live there only with their permission. 

Remember, it was a raven that led Flóki to Iceland in the ninth century. There are loads of them in Iceland. Huge birds that look much like crows, but often act like eagles, they are extremely intelligent. They usually operate in pairs, exclaiming in their distinctive loud croak that can sound like human speech, although ravens produce a wide range of other cries. They seem to be watching you, whether they are soaring high above, or skipping between stones and fence posts. They circle over corpses, of birds, of sheep or of people.

This one above, I spotted while walking along the cliffs in Snaefellsnes.

This being Iceland, there are of course plenty of folk tales about ravens. Odin kept two ravens, Hugin and Munin, who served as scouts for him, flying off to gather intelligence. Ravens predict death or weather changes; one even led a girl away from a landslide. Some grandmothers can converse with them.

Raven on church at Surdarkrókur photo by Michael Ridpath author of Magnus Iceland Mysteries

I visited the town of Saudárkrókur, on a research trip for The Wanderer, in November. There was snow on the ground. The police station is in Church Square, and the whole time I was there, two ravens circled and croaked, often perching on the church tower (see photo above). They owned the town. I had to put them in the book.

I always show the first draft of my books to an Icelander to weed out the mistakes, and I gave The Wanderer to the author Lilja Sigurdardóttir. The book takes place in August, and Lilja told me that ravens only come into town in the winter when they were hungry. It would be very strange to see them in town in August, but if they were there, the local inhabitants would believe that they were foretelling a death. Which was perfect. 

This being one of my books, the ravens were pretty much correct.

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